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Review - The Pirates! In an Adventure with ...

19 May 2012


Determined to win the coveted Pirate of the Year Award, the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and his trusty crew, head out on the high seas in search of plunder, with the forces of Queen Victoria at their heels.

The Pirates! is an adaptation of the first in a series of books by British author Gideon Defoe who also penned this effervescent adaptation. The source material may be spry enough but the real treat for fans of fun (you are a fan of fun are you not?!) is that The Pirates! marks the latest big screen stop motion outing for the genius level types at Aardman Animation.

From Wallace and Gromit to Creature Comforts and their first feature film, Chicken Run, the Bristol based animation house has been a mark of quality for over 20 years. Their films and shows mix suitably off the wall humour with egalitarian charm to fantastic effect. But it’s their dedication to the stop motion animation cause that makes them truly special – one of only a handful of studios still brave enough to use the painstaking art to fashion feature lengthed delights for the entire family.

Remarkably, The Pirates is only Aardman’s third fully fledged stop motion feature after Chicken Run and Curse of the Were Rabbit and the team has found a perfect partner in Defoe – whose barmy characters and unusual perspectives make the most of the self ware humour Aardman are known for.

Aardman has experimented in recent years with computer graphics, releasing their own CG films Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas. But that experience is also increasingly being used in their stop motion films as well, especially those which pose specific technical challenges like, in this case, massive oceans. The use of CG helps to expand the world of The Pirates, giving it a previously unheard of scope.

But it’s the details where the film really shines – the attention paid to the tiniest part of the smallest set, a location that might be used for just a single scene but nevertheless could represent months of work by a single artist. Keep your eyes constantly open for hilarious signage, random backround bits of business and visual gags designed to keep things fresh every time you watch.

The characters are equally exquisite, starting with Hugh Grant making an impressive voice acting debut. Other stars include an especially oirish Brendan Gleeson, David Tennant, Martin Freeman, Ashley Jensen, Salma Hayek and more – a testament to the pulling power of Aardman. The lines are witty and the delivery superb, but our favourite character is almost certainly the mute manpanzie Bobo. The semi-manservant of Tennant’s Darwin, Bobo communicates through delightfully omniscient cue cards and a particularly dry wit.

It is, in a word, charming. In several more – funny, smart, impeccably made, exuberantly performed and just, plainly and simply, one of the most entertaining times I’ve had at the cinema in a good long while. Even the 3D actually seems to add something to this darn near perfect mix. Unmissable.
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